MS Dhoni’s marriage with Indian cricket since the 23 December 2004, when he made his One-Day International (ODI) debut against Bangladesh, has helped the nation become a formidable force in world cricket.
He burst onto the international cricket scene as a hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batsman, who went after the bowlers from the word go. And his face clearly indicated that he enjoyed the pressure of representing India and being out there in the middle, wearing the blue shirt and trousers. Hard-hitting batsmen, or let us say, big hitters, are generally a hit amongst the cricket-watching public, and maybe, Dhoni’s style of play was what endeared him to the spectators at a very early stage of his international career.
As a person, Dhoni has always had a calm head on his shoulders and his insights on the game were welcomed by players who had more than a decade’s experience behind them when the man from Ranchi was still new to international cricket. During India’s tour of England in 2007 – when the visitors, under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy, won a Test series in the country for the first time since 1986 – Sachin Tendulkar caught up with the then BCCI president, Sharad Pawar, and told him about Dhoni’s excellent relations with his team-mates. During his conversation, Tendulkar asked Pawar to recommend Dhoni for Indian captaincy, to the Indian selection committee.
Tendulkar’s words were respected, as always, and Dhoni was made India captain for the inaugural World T20 in South Africa, which followed the tour of England and also saw none of the senior Indian players – Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman – included in the 15-man squad. The Men in Blue went on to lift the cup by beating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final in Johannesburg, with Dhoni delivering a tactical masterclass by asking Joginder Sharma to bowl the decisive final over, instead of the experienced Harbhajan Singh, off which Pakistan needed 12 runs for victory.
Following instant success in the shortest format, the then 26-year old was also made the captain of the Indian ODI side in the same year, prior to the home series against Australia. As India captain, Dhoni has won every major trophy – World T20, the world cup and ICC Champions Trophy – there is to on the international stage and has put himself alongside some of the great captains – Clive Lloyd, Kapil Dev, Ricky Ponting, Graeme Smith, Stephen Fleming, Arjuna Ranatunga, Imran Khan, to name a few – the game has ever seen.
In 181 matches as captain of India in the 50-over format, Dhoni has a win percentage of 60.58, which any captain would be proud of. In the Test arena, Dhoni didn’t taste as much success, but maybe, he never had a side as good as the ODI side. Let us also not forget how he has led the Chennai Super Kings (CSK), establishing them as one of the consistent T20 sides in the world, having won two Indian Premier League (IPL) titles and the same number of Champions League crowns.
Surely Dhoni has been a wonderful servant to Indian cricket and he deserves all the praise he has received. He continues to receive support from his contemporaries and former players – Shahid Afridi, Kiran More, Dilip Vengsarkar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Ajit Wadekar, to name a few – who have come out in support of the man from Ranchi after India’s ignominious 1-2 ODI series defeat to Bangladesh. India’s first-ever ODI series defeat to the Bangla tigers has led to unsubstantiated criticism on Dhoni and speculation whether he should step down as India ODI captain, six months after he gave up Test captaincy.
MS Dhoni: How he lost the Midas touch
In my opinion, despite possessing all the necessary traits to be a successful captain at the international level, MS Dhoni’s success as captain has come in the formats – ODI and T20 – he has been one of India’s leading batsmen during his time. People hardly ever used to talk about his wicket-keeping skills, though Dhoni’s glove-work has been great since taking over from Dinesh Karthik in Test cricket, as well, in 2005.
As a result, even when his players let him down, Dhoni, in a way, controlled his own destiny by being a batting run-machine with the nous to take his team across the finishing line regardless of the pressure he and his team are under. The 2011 ICC World Cup Final between India and Srilanka, contested at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, is a classic example of how Dhoni the batsman controlled his destiny as a captain.
With India in a spot of bother at 114/3, needing 161 more runs to lift the world cup after 28 long years, he had the confidence to walk in at No.5, ahead of Yuvraj Singh, clearly aware of the demands of the situation, and single-handedly took his team to victory with a well-paced 91*. Now, remember, this was a world cup final being played in India, meaning the kind of pressure to win was inexplicable. But that is where Dhoni’s efficiency as a batsman came to the fore.
From that viewpoint, I think his recent batting form, which has been below MS Dhoni’s usual standard, has definitely been one of the major reasons for his inability to win games and trophies as captain.
To put this into some sort of perspective, CSK’s failure to win their third IPL title was partially due to their middle order’s struggle for runs, and MS Dhoni, who batted at No.4 and 5 in a handful of IPL fixtures last season, wasn’t at his fluent best either. He finished the campaign with 372 runs from 17 innings, scoring those runs at 121.96 runs/100 balls, his lowest strike rate in eight completed IPL editions.
It reached a point where the South Indian franchise lost all their momentum by the time they reached the playoffs as the table toppers at the end of the league stage of the campaign. They managed to win only four of their final 10 games and the CSK batsmen were the most culpable. Although he cannot be accused directly for his team’s failure, this was yet another classic case of how Dhoni’s poor batting form didn’t help him thrive as a skipper.
While Dhoni the batsman has not been in good form recently, Dhoni the captain has also got a few tactical decisions wrong. The normally astute MSD got a few of his decisions wrong during IPL 8, and that too in some of the crucial games of the campaign. In the 43rd match of IPL 2015, CSK were in a great position to win the game against the Mumbai Indians (MI).
The visitors needed 30 runs off the last two overs to win the game and even though they had Ambati Rayudu and Hardik Pandya – two good finishers – in the middle, Chennai, who had bowled exceedingly well to get themselves back into the game after a great start from Mumbai, were odds on favorites to win. The normally astute Dhoni turned to Pawan Negi, the 22-year old left-arm spinner, who conceded 25 runs in the penultimate over of the innings, leaving Dwayne Bravo, CSK’s most potent bowler, to defend a mere five runs in the final over.
There were two ways by which Dhoni could have played his cards: in the modern game, we are seeing captains bowl their best bowler in the penultimate over and taking the game beyond the batting side’s reach, in the final over. From that point of view, the Ranchi man could have bowled Bravo, who had two overs up his sleeve, in the 19th over and given himself and his team a good chance of closing the game out; another way would have been to bowl someone like Mohit Sharma, who is a fast bowler and usually thrives during the latter stages of the innings, instead of the young Negi. In the post-match presentation, Dhoni admitted to the gaffe he had committed.
Again in the IPL 2015 final played at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, against the same MI side, Dhoni relinquished the initiative winning the toss had given him. On a sluggish Kolkata wicket, Dhoni asked the home side to bat first. His bowlers didn’t help him by bowling badly and allowing Mumbai get past 200.
There was no reason why Dhoni should not have opted to bat first, given that it was the grand final and Mumbai had relished batting first throughout the campaign. Dhoni’s decision was probably a consequence of the IPL 2015 record at the Eden Gardens, where sides batting second won four of the six completed games at the venue. So, we can infer that Dhoni expected the pitch to remain good throughout the game. But, again, his decision boomeranged badly – which was very unlike of Dhoni the captain.
During India’s three-match ODI series against Bangladesh, we also saw one side of MS Dhoni’s captaincy that we have seldom seen before. After India’s comprehensive failure in the 1st ODI, which they lost by 79 runs, the 33-year old ringed in major changes in personnel.
The Indian ODI and T20I skipper axed Ajinkya Rahane, Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav – three crucial players during India’s 2015 ICC World Cup campaign – and broke the pattern of India’s playing XI, which had remained the same from the beginning of their title-defending world cup campaign. Dhoni’s decision to drop the aforementioned trio, in particular, was hard to understand because India had failed as a unit and fingers should not have been pointed at anyone.
The aforementioned instances led to speculation on whether MS Dhoni is lost his touch a little. After the 2-1 ODI series loss to Bangladesh, Dhoni went on to add only one more series victory during his captaincy tenure and ended in a disappointing fashion.